I've been reading the just-released Byron Review, an independent research report commissioned by the UK government on the effects of violent media on children. The study was conducted by Dr. Tanya Byron, a clinical psychologist and author of three books on child behavior - Byron is also a mother of two.
As I mentioned in a recent post on the forthcoming book Grand Theft Childhood, rigorous research on the effects of video games on children continues to dispel fears espoused by alarmists, while also suggesting some reasons for concern. Though wider in scope--it focuses on children's exposure to the internet as well as video games--The Byron Review reaches similar balanced conclusions and offers a series of sensible recommendations.
A few key excerpts taken directly from the report:
- Having considered the evidence I believe we need to move from a discussion about the media ‘causing’ harm to one which focuses on children and young people, what they bring to technology and how we can use our understanding of how they develop to empower them to manage risks and make the digital world safer.
- In relation to video games, we need to improve on the systems already in place to help parents restrict children’s access to games which are not suitable for their age. I propose that we seek to do that by reforming the classification system and pooling the efforts of the games industry, retailers, advertisers, console manufacturers and online gaming providers to raise awareness of what is in games and enable better enforcement.
- Children and young people need to be empowered to keep themselves safe – this isn’t just about a top-down approach. Children will be children – pushing boundaries and taking risks. At a public swimming pool we have gates, put up signs, have lifeguards and shallow ends, but we also teach children how to swim.
- We need to take into account children’s individual strengths and vulnerabilities, because the factors that can discriminate a ‘beneficial’ from a ‘harmful’ experience online and in video games will often be individual factors in the child. The very same content can be useful to a child at a certain point in their life and development and may be equally damaging to another child. That means focusing on the child, what we know about how children’s brains develop, how they learn and how they change as they grow up. This is not straightforward – while we can try to categorise children by age and gender there are vast individual differences that will impact on a child’s experience when gaming or online, especially the wider context in which they have developed and in which they experience the technology.
I'm struck by how Byron rejects the summary judgments and simplistic solutions proposed by politicians, religious figures and others who have placed themselves at the forefront of this issue. I admire her decision to place the needs of children at the center of her study, and I respect her insistence that we preserve "the right of children to take the risks that form an inherent part of their development," but also enable them to play games and explore the net "in a safe and informed way."
My brief summary doesn't begin to capture the full scope of this work. You can read the full report here or an executive summary here. You can also listen to Dr. Byron discuss her approach to the study in an audio interview with The Guardian (UK).